Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is It the Kids? Or their Parents? Both? Neither?

Are kids today succeeding or failing? Are schools successful or flunk-out factories? Is anybody actually a grown-up anymore? These questions drive much discussion on social media and across community groups as we debate whether or not we need to make America great again. As a Gen Xer, I am certainly familiar with the down-turned noses of older Americans who look at young people with disdain and disappointment. And, as I've noted in a recent post, many people are identifying a crisis in or stagnation of the process of "growing up." So, if you have your suspicions and criticisms of young people today, here's a good question: Is it the character of the kids and the superficial world in which they live, or is it a result of poor parenting?

This topic was on my mind recently as I participated in discussions of educational shortcomings and achievement gaps. I begin to ask why some kids succeed while others don't. If you ask well-known psychologist and writer Dr. Leonard Sax, you would receive a harsh criticism of the parenting skills of Baby Boomers and the older Xers. Sax warns of the The Collapse of Parenting. Sax believes "we hurt our kids when we treat them like grown-ups." I haven't read Dr. Sax's latest, but I was a big fan of his earlier book on Why Gender Matters. However, I can also understand some of the criticism which claims that Sax's solutions to "what's wrong with young people" are simply an outdated promotion of authoritarian parenting. And there may be good reason to believe that Sax is overstating his opinions based on anecdotal evidence rather than actual research and data on poor parenting skills.

There is certainly no shortage of advice on how to parent, or in this day and age of arrested development, How to Raise and Adult. That idea is in some ways the antithesis to Sax's advice because it describes the benefit of breaking free from the overparenting trap. How much or how little parenting should happen is really that elusive sweet spot that no doctor or book can accurately pinpoint. Is the question and the solution a matter of cultural norms? That can certainly be a loaded question, especially when considering the views of the Yale law professors Amy Chua (of the Tiger Mom fame) and her husband Jeb Rubenfeld who kicked up some controversy in a recent book about achievement gaps - The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.

Who or what is responsible for the success or failures, the achievement or struggles, the triumphs or the tragedies of young people today?


c.marie said...

I recently started reading "Misreading Masculinity" by Thomas Newkirk, and he expressed something that rang true to me: "To live in a crisis is to live in a special time, a critical moment in history, one that gratifies a desire to see ourselves as unique"(8). I love this quote because I think it captures exactly what you express here. I think, specifically in education, we enjoy pointing out that the next generation will fail 'us' in some way or is currently failing us or that the generations before were better.

I teach in the school I attended as a 13 year old kid, and the teacher I had for my 'high level' English class would always say, "The kids in the program now are not like they were when you were here." I really did not understand what she meant by this because I taught the 'high level' students with her, and I also held onto my reading and writing notebook from Middle School and there was NO WAY that I was doing the same kind of writing and thinking that the students I am currently teaching are doing. It is not comparable. It is to the point where I flash around my notebook to let them know that I help onto my educational record, but there is no way I would pass it around as a mentor of what I would like to see from them.

So - to respond to some of your thinking, I do not think that any one generation is in crisis. I just think that each is different and there will always be fear surrounding how those differences will play out.

mmazenko said...

C. Marie, thanks for you comments. There is much insight in your words. I guess the important point is simply asking the question and reflecting on the issue.